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Language versus Will: The Poetics of Harold Bloom

  • Robin Jarvis

Abstract

Over the last fifteen years Harold Bloom has been elaborating a ‘diachronic rhetoric’ uncomprising enough to provoke and alienate adherents of every current critical school, yet impassioned enough in its formulation and practice to constitute a revised ‘defence of poetry’ in the face of unfamiliar challenges. His studies of the post-Renaissance literary imagination have totally refashioned the concept of influence in the shape of a psychic and rhetorical struggle against the intimidating presence of the ‘mighty dead’, and have put the Sublime — a ‘greatly altered’, because more dialectical, Sublime — firmly back on the map of contemporary criticism; Bloom himself has emerged as both theorist and protagonist of this altered Sublime. Though he has succeeded in putting more backs up than most critics would probably aspire to, Bloom has had a qualified appeal for a largely American audience,1 and the reasons for this are not hard to find. For through a revisionary poetics which, while abnegating naive myths of authorship and originality, offers a wide hermeneutic franchise to the strong-willed latecomer poet or reader, he has at once departed cleanly from the idealisms of traditional literary criticism and staked out a defensible field of play for the creative personality in face of the indefatigable negations of the deconstructors.

Keywords

Primal Word Creative Personality Paradise Lost Diacritical Mark Spatial Projection 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    Harold Bloom, Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 46.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Geoffrey Hartman, ‘War in Heaven’, in The Fate of Reading and Other Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), pp. 49–50.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Paul de Man, Review of The Anxiety of Influence, reprinted in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, 2nd ed. (London: Methuen, 1983), p. 275.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Harold Bloom, Poetry and Repression: Revisionism from Blake to Stevens (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1976; henceforth cited as Pamp;R), p. 4.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Joseph Riddel, ‘Juda Becomes New Haven’, Diacritics, X (Summer 1980), 23.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973; cited henceforth as AI), p. 109.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Northrop Frye, ‘The Drunken Boat: The Revolutionary Element in Romanticism’, in Romanticism Reconsidered (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1963), pp. 4–5.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Thomas Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime: Studies in the Structure and Psychology of Transcendence (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), p. 21.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Sigmund Freud, ‘The Antithetical Meaning of Primal Words’, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey et al., 24 vols (London: Hogarth Press, 1953–74), II: 161.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Robin Jarvis 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robin Jarvis
    • 1
  1. 1.Bristol PolytechnicUK

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